Spooktober reviews – Apostle

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The director of The Raid decides to have a go at directing a horror flick. It goes just as well as you’d expect, though did he go a little too far on the brutality?

Its Spooktober guys, officially the best holiday of the year for a horror aficionado such as myself. So, as a spin on the usual “12 days of Christmas” thing, I’m going to review a horror movie a day as part of my “12 days of Halloween” series. To start off, I’m going to review Gareth Evan’s latest film, Apostle.

Apostle is another one of those slow burn horrors. It starts off more so trying to establish the atmosphere rather than throwing the audience into a conundrum of scares. The windy, eerie, Wiccan setting is perfectly founded and explored, giving viewers time to ease themselves into the environment. You’ll feel as if you’re cast headfirst into the dreary wilderness and the ruthless communal towns of this olden Welsh backdrop during the first few minutes. Despite this, you’re also left with a mystery about the whole place. You think you already understand the motives of the villagers and the cult by the halfway mark, but there’s still more you want to discover. I think the filmmakers did a fantastic job in crafting this world as one in which I’d like to find out more of with regards to its history and culture. The supernatural elements present in the first half do a brilliant job of giving a mysterious vibe to the whole setting.

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The plot centers around a drifter, Thomas Henderson, as he travels to the island in search for his kidnapped sister, Jennifer. While there, he discovers a religious cult that worships a being, whom they believe has forged the island to their liking. He soon gets entangled in this web of mystery surrounding the cult and finds himself trying to avoid being discovered by masquerading as a faithful member of their society. He forms an alliance with Jeremy, son of the cult leader’s second in command and Ffion’s boyfriend, and the two try to search for Thomas’ sister while avoiding the watchful eyes of the cultists. Sooner and later, they find there’s something sinister at stake within this very village, something that not even they could comprehend.

The supernatural elements that are shoved in audience faces throughout don’t have an explanation for their inclusion at all. If they were taken out, it wouldn’t make much of a difference, except to lessen the scare factor. The film’s already unsettling and everything paranormal that happens is just icing on the cake at this point. Audience members will probably interpret it as illusions conjured up by none other than Thomas himself (given that he’s the only person that catches glimpses of them), but that’s all it is, an interpretation. There’s not really any explanation for these happenings at all, so they feel more like window dressing more so than anything else.

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Dan Stevens performance as Thomas may prove to be polarizing for some viewers. Whereas the character of The Drifter is meant to come across as this somewhat violent, gritty, addled man, it comes across as uncanny than anything else when you hear his gruff, patchy voice coming from that pretty face of his. Stevens just doesn’t feel as convincing as a drifter type character, and its not like I’m saying he can’t portray these types of characters. It’s more so the script that is at fault here, as it doesn’t give enough breathing room for Stevens to get immerse in his character. To compensate, Thomas Jane did a marvelous job portraying a rough farmhand in 1922, where his character had similar characteristics to The Drifter in Apostle. So, if the freaking Punisher can do it, so can he. A bit of slimming down and some method acting would have done Steven’s performance wonders here. Jeremy and Ffion’s characters come across more as typical star struck lovers than anything else and are more so in the film just, so audiences can feel their hearts being pierced when all hell breaks loose. Malcom’s daughter Andrea serves as nothing more as a love interest for our main protagonist, but I’m sorry Dan Stevens fangirls (and thank god by the way, because I am sick and tired of films trying to shoehorn in some cringy romance subplot), I regret to inform you that nothing romantic of note happens between the two (apart from Andrea having a somewhat obvious crush on him). Malcolm’s inclusion in the plot came off as rather weird to me than anything else. Its as if the writers didn’t know whether to keep him a villain or make him some sort of a misunderstood anti-hero. Anyways, the villains in this flick aren’t any different from the standard antagonist you’d find in every cult movie, deranged and outright obsessive towards their own religion to the point of causing mayhem.

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Bit of a warning though for those of you who are squeamish: there are some rather grisly torture sequences towards the end. People in the early 1900s really don’t mess about when it comes to whetting divine retribution on to enemies, traitors and the faithless, and this film highlights that in all its gory glory. If you’re hugely curious, you could take a gander at all the various instruments and devices used during those times, heck look at the medieval ones for they’re similar. Its not for the faint of heart. There’s already a clue to how violent this would end up becoming, just look at who’s in charge of the direction. Gareth Evans directed The Raid films and a very gory segment in the VHS2 anthology of short, found footage schlock. This guy knows how to make action as brutal and uncompromising as possible. There was one kill that did managed to make me slightly queasy. And this is coming from a guy who could sit through the entirety of Green Room without feeling remotely ill.

While I felt more could have been added to spice up the narrative, it did end up as a rather satisfying, though somewhat decent thriller. Nothing too special, though the excellent atmosphere and sort of captivating mystery would keep you on your toes throughout. Spruce this up with a heavy dose of gruesome violence past the halfway point and you have yourself a good time waster. And hey, look on the bright side, at least its better than 90% of Netflix originals.

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If you end up enjoying Apostle in the end, feel free to check out a short film Gareth Evans directed for VHS2, titled “Safe Haven.” Its pretty similar in tone, atmosphere and even plot for that matter, as it too centres around a man trying to find a loved one, captured by a cult for some strange, religious purpose.

Apostle is a Netflix original and thus is available to stream on that service. Time to “Netflix and chill,” am I right?

Final verdict: 6/10

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